When I read news articles, sometimes I think "this sounds thought-provoking", and I turn to the online comments to see if it started one. Almost invariably, most of the comments turn out to be rants that are only distantly germane to the article (e.g., any article on the Middle East sets off a firestorm with ... well, you can guess; any article on Ron Paul sets off commenters screaming about how he's being "ignored" by the media, etc.). Sometimes, the ones I think are most thought-provoking have no comments (typically any article that mentions Africa). Go figure.
It is also surprising how many people you think ought to know better end up doing nothing but shouting. I went to a well-regarded selective-admissions public high school (the mean score for the standard college-admissions test in the US is not far from perfect) (and no, I did not get a perfect score on said test), but when we had a sponsored debate between the Democratic and Republican groups in our school, it still devolved into a (literal) shouting match.
Which brings me, in a roundabout manner, to the true topic of this post. Apparently, there is a firestorm currently brewing over a post on planet.mozilla.org that dealt with a political topic of current interest to some people. I discovered, years ago, that you catch a lot more flak if you write a post that goes to an aggregator that people disagree with than if you write one they agree with (I explained why I did not like the results of the 2008 presidential election, and caught more flak than the few posts earlier celebrating those results). I don't mind political discussion—indeed, as I described earlier, I'd love one. But I can understand why people might not like sensitive political topics being collected on a site which can be interpreted as official Mozilla policy.
However, there is one thing I don't like about it. Some people have taken it upon themselves to call the viewpoint presented as hate speech. I don't know what hate speech is exactly, but I don't think it should ever exist, no matter what one defines. That is because terming something as hate speech is an attempt to avoid discussing it: it is a way to say "that statement is so wrong I am not going to bother to refute it", or, equivalently, "I am so right that any opposition to my idea cannot be rationally argued." It is at best an insult to one's opponent and at worst an admission of outright arrogance.
Even worse, I think, are people who want to outlaw hate speech. Speech is, fundamentally, a reflection of one's belief. Attempting to outlaw the utterance of specific beliefs is nothing more than trying to outlaw those beliefs in the first place. Sure, some of them are injurious insults (such as those who deny that the Holocaust happened), but there is, to me, a steep slippery slope you start out on. Why outlaw denials of the Holocaust but not also outlaw denials of other historical religiously-motivated genocides? Hell, why stop there? We could outlaw any false statement: think how much more rational our discussions would be if people didn't state such lies as "Sharia law is invading the US legal system" or "the New Deal did nothing to bring us out of the Great Depression." Wait, maybe that's why.
I remember, when doing a project for a US Government class that involved redebating several key cases on freedom speech, that I found a Supreme Court decision which mentioned something to the effect of "Free speech is at its best when it causes discomfort" (I cannot find the exact quote right now, sadly enough). At that moment, I think, I solidified my stance on free speech to the following: all speech ought to be free, no matter how insulting, radical, or slanderous it may be. It may be that your speech causes injurious actions, but it's only the intent and the action that matters (e.g., falsely yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater is grounds for manslaughter, but because the action was intended to create a stampede, not because you actually said "Fire"). Attempting to censor others' opinions—whether through legal means, or through attempts to shame them by calling their words "hate speech"—is not an action I can support.
And if you disagree with me, feel free to try to discuss it with me. Who knows, I may just change my mind.